lalla - naked song

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Cover photograph: Double exposure of dahlia and European hollyhock by True Bennett. Copyright 1992 Coleman Barks All rights reserved. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 91-066805 ISBN 0-9618916-4-5

Maypop Books 196 Westview Drive Athens, GA 30606 404-543-2148

This book is for the dance, and the song.

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Dance, Lalla, with nothing on but air. Sing, Lalla, wearing the sky. Look at this glowing day! What clothes could be so beautiful, or more sacred? * * *

I began as a bloom of cotton, outdoors. Then they brought me to a room where they washed me. Then the hard strokes of the carder's wife. Then another woman spun thin threads, twisting me around her wheel. Then the kicks of the weaver's loom made cloth, and on the washing stone, washermen wet and slung me about to their satisfaction, whitened me with earth and bone, and cleaned me to my own amazement. Then the scissors of the tailor, piece by piece, and his careful finishing work. Now, at last, as clothes, I find You and freedom. This living is so difficult before one takes your hand. Whatever work I've done, whatever I have thought, was praise with my body and praise hidden inside my head. * * *

In this state there is no Shiva, nor any holy union.

Only a somewhat something moving dreamlike on a fading road. Loosen the load of sweetness I'm carrying. The sling-knot is biting into my shoulder. This day has been so meaningless. I feel I can't go on. When I was with my teacher, I heard a truth that hurt my heart like a blister, the tender pain of seeing something I loved as an illusion. The flocks I tended are gone. I am a shepherd without even a memory of what that means, climbing this mountain. I feel so lost. This was my inward way, until I came into the presence of a Moon, this new knowledge of how likenesses unite. Good Friend, everything is You. I see only God. Now the delightful forms and motions are transparent. I look through them and see myself as the Absolute. And here's the answer to the riddle of this dream: You leave, so that we two can do One Dance. That one is blessed and at peace who doesn't hope, to whom desire makes no more loans. Nothing coming, nothing owed. * * *

Just for a moment, flowers appear on the empty, nearly-spring tree.

Just for a second, wind through the wild thicket thorns. Self inside self, You are nothing but me. Self inside self, I am only You. What we are together will never die. The why and how of this? What does it matter? * * *

You are the sky and the ground. You alone the day, the night air. You are all things born into being. Also, these flower offerings that someone brought. Whatever your name, Shiva, Vishnu, the genius who inspired Scherazade, savior of the Jains, the pure Buddha, lotus-born God, I am sick. The world is my disease, and You are the cure, You, you, you, you, you, you, you. * * *

I saw a wise man dying of starvation. Leaves fall in the slightest wind in December. And I saw a wealthy man beating his cook for some mistake with the spices. Since then, I, Lalla, have been waiting for my love of this place to leave me. You were once a swan singing melodies, Lalla. Now you're quiet. Someone, I don't know who, has run off with what belonged to you.

The millstone stops, and the hole where the grain is fed in fills with grain. The channel leading to the grinding work is covered over and hidden, and the miller himself has disappeared. * * *

What has happened to me? All these songs tell one story: that of Lalla on a lake, not knowing what sandbar I'll run aground on. What kind of luck have I had? I made harmony out of a man's clumsy plastering job on the ceiling. Still I wonder which sandbank will strand me. And how is it now with me? Magnificent, this becoming more and more awake. Sir, have you forgotten the promise you made in your mother's womb, to die before you die? When will you remember what you intended? Don't let your donkey wander loose! It will stray into your neighbor's saffron garden. Think of the damage it might do, and the punishment! Who then will carry you naked to your own death? * * *

Forgetful one, get up! It's dawn, time to start searching. Open your wings and lift. Give like the blacksmith even breath to the bellows. Tend the fire that changes the shape of metal. Alchemical work begins at dawn, as you walk out to meet the Friend. There is a lake so tiny that a mustard seed would cover it easily, yet everyone drinks from this lake. Deer, jackals, rhinocerouses, and sea elephants keep falling into it, falling and dissolving almost before they have time to be born. * * *

I wearied myself searching for the Friend with efforts beyond my strength. I came to the door and saw how powerfully the locks were bolted. And the longing in me became that strong, and then I saw that I was gazing from within the presence. With that waiting, and in giving up all trying, only then did Lalla flow out from where I knelt. Your way of knowing is a private herb garden. Enclose it with a hedge of meditation, and self-discipline, and helpfulness to others.

Then everything you've done before will be brought as a sacrifice to the mother goddess. And each day, as you eat the herbs, the garden grows more bare and empty. Beautifully full of juice they come from the mother, causing many birth-pains. Again and again, they wait at her door to enter. Shiva is not often among them! Meditate on that. The pedestal rock can also serve as pavement, or as a handsome millstone turning perfectly. Each is just a hardened piece of the ground. Shiva is so rarely found. Sunlight shines everywhere equally. Water flows into every house. It's also true that Shiva can scarcely be located. The woman who nurses her child with milk acts with a different love as your wife, and talking secretly to other men, she may be dangerous to you, the same woman. Meditate on how seldom Shiva appears. If I could control the channels of my breath, if I could perform precise surgery on myself, I could create the substance that awareness is. There's nothing more valuable than that! God does not often come as a person. Four questions: Who is awake and who asleep?

What is this lake that is continually oozing back into the earth? What can a human being offer to God? What do we most deeply want? The answers: The mind is what sleeps. What recognizes itself as God is awake. This always-disappearing lake is made of our appetites, these movings-about, this talking and listening. The only offering you can make to God is your increasing awareness. And the last desire is to be God in human form. The soul, like the moon, is new, and always new again. And I have seen the ocean continuously creating. Since I scoured my mind and my body, I too, Lalla, am new, each moment new. My teacher told me one thing, Live in the soul. When that was so, I began to go naked, and dance. * * *

Meditate within eternity. Don't stay in the mind.

Your thoughts are like a child fretting near its mother's breast, restless and afraid, who with a little guidance, can find the path of courage. Wear just enough clothes to keep warm. Eat only enough to stop the hunger-pang. And as for your mind, let it work to recognize who you are, and the Absolute, and that this body will become food for the forest crows. * * *

Meditation and self-discipline are not all that's needed, nor even a deep longing to go through the door of freedom. You may dissolve in contemplation, as salt does in water, but there's something more that must happen. Enlighten your desires. Meditate on who you are. Quit imagining. What you want is profoundly expensive, and difficult to find, yet closeby. Don't search for it. It is nothing, and a nothing within nothing. * * *

Awareness is the ocean of existence. Let it loose and your words will rage and cause wounds like fishing spears. But if you tend it like a fire to discover the truth, you'll find how much of that there is in what you say. None.

Fame is water carried in a basket. Hold the wind in your fist, or tie up an elephant with one hair. These are accomplishments that will make you famous. * * *

So ham in Sanskrit means I am He. Reversed, hamsa means swan. This way is the way of those who remember I am He, He is me, so ham, swan, and hamsa, all one soaring beauty and freedom. No matter that we're busy in business night and day. We don't care what profit comes. We live alone inside the Lord. Flowers, sesame seed, bowls of fresh water, a tuft of kusa-grass, all this altar paraphernalia is not needed by someone who takes the teacher's words in and honestly lives them. Full of longing in meditation, one sinks into a joy that is free of any impulse to act and will not enter a human birth again. * * *

It is God who yawns and sneezes and coughs, and now laughs. Look, it's God doing ablutions!

God deciding to fast, God going naked from one New Year's Eve to the next. Will you ever understand how near God is to you? I exhausted myself, looking. No one ever finds this by trying. I melted in it and came home, where every jar is full, but no one drinks. * * *

Your pride in yourself and your wanting, these steal your energy along the road. If you can kill these robbers and become the servant of everyone, you'll meet the Lord in meditation and see what you used to protect as just a pile of ashes. * * *

Double Poems There are at least two equally possible translations for these poems because of the puns in Sanskrit. In this poem the words for "me" and "you" may be read together, in which case they become one word meaning "mud." separate: Absorbed in yourself, you hid from me. I spent every day looking for you. Then I saw you inside and gave myself in a rapture of union. together: Covered with mud, I spend the entire day looking for mud! Now I see what's all over